In India one of the most popular types of cars are the Hatchback’s. A small sized car which can fit 5 people, fuel efficient and relatively economical to buy. Anywhere you look in an Indian city & you will for sure find a Hatchback. For years now Maruti Suzuki has ruled the Hatchback segment with a variety of cars for sale in this segment but in recent years they have come to face a lot of competition from other manufacturers. One of them is the mighty Volkswagen !
When Volkswagen introduced the Volkswagen Polo back in 2010 to the Indian market, the car came as a refreshing modern addition to the hatchback segment which seemed to be ageing a bit back then. The car was aggressively styled, spacious, had lots of modern technology fitted in, and was a lot sportier in terms of rid and handling than most of its competitors ( thanks to its stiff suspension ). But there was one part of the hatchback segment which seemed to be an unexplored territory in India.
The Hot Hatch
A hot Hatch is a sort of a hooligan version of the civilized hatchbacks many people use in their everyday lives. They look almost the same (few cosmetic changes are made at times to better performance) or exactly the same to the cars they are based on but aren’t the same under the hood. Around the world, the Hot Hatch range of horsepower is quite wide. They go from 120hp up to 250bhp. But in India this isn’t the case. Back in 2010 if someone wanted a hot hatch in India there wasn’t much choice to go for. There is the Punto sport ( 90HP) but many people (including this cars owner) looked away from fiat due to its poor after sales quality, interior quality, and service problems such as lack of spares. One more reason for the lack of interest in this segment is that in India people do tend to lean toward to fuel efficiency and cutting down running costs rather than having a car that can make you smile wide as u depress your right foot. Volkswagen decided to give this category a shot with the Polo 1.6. Although VW has stopped production of this car in India (due to it not being able to become the hit they thought it would be, their current entry in this segment is the Polo TSI) it still remains a very appealing car to those petrol heads around town.
This specific Polo 1.6 belongs to a good friend of mine and he was very kind enough to allow me to drive it and do this review on it. He bought the car in April 2011 and has done about 14000kms on it and every time I see him drive it there never seems to be nothing but a smile on his face (there was one on my face too, when I drove it!) What makes this car appealing u might ask? Well let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail.
Exterior Design and looks:
The Volkswagen polo is a car which was designed keeping in mind the modern world. Most car manufacturers are designing their hatchback keeping the youth in mind (considering that nowadays hatchbacks are the cars which most people in their youths go for because of their pricing and value for money). The Volkswagen polo is one car which oozes modern design philosophy. Its aggressive styling and sharp lines are very striking and attractive to look and the same principle is followed all along the car.
The car’s front end is what is the most striking and distinctive to look at! The whole flow of aggressive and bold lines along the car starts from here. The uniquely styled headlights and bumper give the car a menacing look (at night there is no question on which car is behind you when you see those set of headlights). Although this car is styled in this manner, there is still a certain amount of fluidity in the whole overall shape of the car.
Due to the lack of a proper boot, the nice looking sharp lines come to a somewhat of an abrupt end. However Volkswagen has done its best to make the rear of this car as good as the front (tried & in my opinion the front looks very much better than the rear). The 15” alloy wheels look good too and suite the cars design very well.
When it comes the build quality of the car there is no doubt of the supremacy the German manufacturer holds in this area. The exterior feels very solid and very well put together. The quality of the body work Is very good and the finish as well. This is one area I feel Volkswagen has the edge over other cars in its segment although there are a few which run close with it – one being the Fiat Punto and the Honda Brio.
Interiors Design & Quality:
Take a look inside and the polo follows the same standards it does on the outside. The interior of the car feels very solid and the materials used are of quite a good quality. The Instrument cluster makes use of modern technology with a digital display which gives the driver information about fuel quantity and data from the trip computer such as fuel consumption average, real time consumption, range, and speed. The display itself is very clear and easy to read. There have been complaints that at night, especially on the highway the screen is a bit too bright and hampers visibility a bit but the owner of this car said he didn’t find the display disturbing at night and I too didn’t find it very disturbing while on the highway.So I guess we will leave this up to personal opinion.
The Center console is simple and functional in its design. It isn’t cluttered with buttons and the controls are simple and easy to use. The touch and feel of the controls too is solid as with whole of the car. However when it comes to comforts, the Polo 1.6 isn’t as well equipped as one would want. There is no climate control all thought the air conditioning is powerful and cools the car well. The music system doesn’t have AUX or Bluetooth capabilities but the speakers are powerful and clear lending to a more pleasurable drive.
The seats on the Polo 1.6 are comfortable and supportive to be in. The driver seat is height adjustable and the steering can be adjusted in rake and reach but the reach is limited to only 3-4 inches. The interior also comes in a nice dual tone beige and black color scheme. But all in all there is nothing to complain about with this interior, its solidly built and will last long into the cars life.
Engine & Driving Dynamics:
Now we come to the part which really sets this car apart from the others in its segment. The Engine! The car is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.6L four cylinder engine which churns out 103bhp @ 5250 RPM and 153NM of torque @3750 RPM. In India these number are usually reserved for the mid-size sedan segment (By looking at these numbers itself anyone would come to think that this car is no slouch). It doesn’t let your expectations down. Initially it does take a bit to get going, but as the RPM needle crosses 1500 – 2000 RPM it comes alive and you suddenly find your body a little further away from the steering wheel if you weren’t leaning back into your seat already. Lean in to the throttle further and the engine just pulls all the way through up to the red line. This sensation of being pressed in your seat is also accompanied by a deep roar from the engine bay. However while idling I found that there is a minute lag in throttle response.
This hunk of an engine is mated to a Five-speed manual gearbox. The gearbox itself is slick and slots into gear very easily making changing gears a peach. But it lacks that mechanical feel and on a side note to engage reverse you have to push the gear leaver down and then push it into the direction of first gear. The gear ratios are more suited to city driving. On the highway due to the lack of low end torque you do need to downshift a gear to overtake but else this can take you up to some serious speeds which could get you into some serious trouble!
One place the Volkswagen polo seems to be different from the rest is its suspension tune. Whether you like It or not is up to personal opinion. Some people like having stiff suspension as it contributes to better handling characteristics and less body role during cornering and then there are the people who like to have a softer state of tune so that all the bumps and potholes are soaked up. Well, from day one the Volkswagen polo has been criticized a bit for having too harsh and stiff a ride, but I don’t mind it. For me it’s not that harsh it does a decent job of dealing with our constantly dug up and pothole ridden road (there are cars which deal with the roads much better e.g. Hyundai i20, but then again it can’t match up to the way this car takes the bends). The car feels planted at highway speeds and give the diver more confidence in driving the car. The steering is light which is perfect in the city but for highway driving a bit more weight would have been a lot better. The steering is a bit dull in feedback which is nice if u don’t want the steering constantly moving around to every bump and pothole forcing the tires to move, but if u prefer a steering with feedback then you might not fancy this one ( This is due to it being an electronic power steering rather than hydraulic).
All in all this is a nice car to drive. With its powerful engine and its good handling and road holding you find yourself wanting to spend more and more time with it and drive it on a nice highway till its tanks are empty (suggest you don’t though).
Service & After Sales:
When it comes to VW’s service the owner said that delivery and availability of parts weren’t an issue with Volkswagen polo. However he did mention that if he had any specific technical complaint the ability of the VW’s mechanics to troubleshoot and isolate the problem wasn’t good enough. He once found himself complaining about the same problem twice. Each time the representatives said they found the issue and fixed it but the problem lingered. Only on the third attempt was the problem actually resolved.
Where The Volkswagen polo 1.6 isn’t up to mark:
- The initial throttle response is a bit slow.
- There isn’t as much low-end torque as expected for a petrol engine, so for overtaking (especially in a fully loaded car) on highways you do have to down shift a gear to get the engine to its peak torque output.
- For people who like riding in comfort this is not a car for you in terms of ride quality. You do feel the bumps and potholes in the car due to its stiff suspension.
- The car isn’t packed with as many features as it competitors like the Hyundai i20, Fiat Punto, and the Honda Brio.
This car was definitely a hot hatch for the Indian market (I say it because VW has stopped production of this car in India). It was most definitely an appealing car to look at and drive and would get your adrenaline pumping when you want it too. But if any company including Volkswagen wants to bring out a true hot hatch and contend seriously, then I think they should take things a step further (Maybe more powerful engines and better handling).